Custodian Editorial: Redefining Feminism

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By Oluwamiseun White

I have frequently been asked “What is feminism?”

The word appears to connote more negativity than positivity for a number of people, which to me initially made no sense so I made it a duty to find out why feminism receives so much negativity in our world today.

On one hand, feminism is apparently characterized by a radical, possibly confused and arguably inhumane set of views. Some say, it is about ‘controlling men’, ‘making men pay’ ‘bleeding free’ and ‘shunning motherhood’. It has also been said that it is about being ‘sensual’ ‘free’ ‘provocative’; Miley and Beyonce’s names cropped a lot for this one. Whilst these tags may define feminism for some, it is not an accurate representation of what the majority believes. It is certainly not in line with the reasons for which the feminist movement was started in the 19th century by Susan B Anthony & co.

Without doubt, societal dismantling of women’s’ rights is problematic and must be addressed. However, a misconstrued, aggressive, hate-fuelled movement with intolerance of differing opinion is not the way forward. Feminism is not hatred for men, neither is it intimidating women into shunning personal hygiene or feeling bad about not being militaristic about their feminist views. It makes the cause unattractive not only for men, but also for women.

I was recently asked:
“Given your views on gender equality do you believe that a wife should at the very least, be expected to do domestic chores, such as cooking cleaning etc. if she cannot empower herself/does not contribute anything to the marriage from a financial perspective?”

This was a tough question but a very important one, particularly relevant for many Nigerian girls who struggle to reconcile ambition and self-sufficiency with a desire for ‘traditional’ family dynamics and chivalry. Please note my answer only represents my views.
To begin with, I don’t believe in gender equality, in fact I think emphasis on equality is a flaw in feminism. For one, it is difficult to pin down what it even means: Is the end goal equal opportunity? Or should we be aiming for equal outcomes? Does equality mean creating a world where the two sexes are the same? Or does it mean creating a world where we all have the same rights in all areas of our lives? Is that even possible? How do we reconcile feminism with the various stratums of complexities, compounded by race, socialization and ethnicity?

As a feminist, I understand fully why many of us latch on to a desire for equality. However, not only is it a misleading goal, it is imprisoning, unachievable and to an extent grossly regressive.

It is misleading because, what we really need is respect, tolerance, access [education, health, work] and the support to gain these things, so that we can fulfil our individual potential. I think it is imprisoning because some people are so fixated on being seeing as equal to men that they don’t have time to think outside the box. Unachievable in that we have different strengths; capacities and thus our functions are different. If I was a bricklayer, working alongside an equally skilled/built male bricklayer, probability is he’ll be stronger, should we still be paid the same? Another scenario, if today roles were switched and men become reliant on women as bread-winners, would ‘inequality’ end? Or would the complaint not be that women are working so hard whilst men stay at home and enjoy fun time with the kids? As a result of all these discrepancies, my feminism is not fixated on equality, rather I advocate for justice: foundational [Same value and respect apply to both sexes] and formal [Same laws apply to both sexes] sameness. My views thus far may be seemingly controversial, however; I remain unapologetic.

Furthermore, in my opinion being a feminist and contributing financially does not automatically excuse one from domestic work. I believe in being pragmatic and working as a team i.e work out what works for you and play to your strengths. For example if cooking is a strong point, you have the time to do it if he is deserving, i.e. he does not see it as his divine right. I see no reason why one should not cook. Likewise, if he can iron well then there is no reason why he shouldn’t do so. Just because a man provides does not mean he is excused from working in the home or babysitting. This all links back to my idea of foundational sameness.
To answer the extreme case posed in the question, simplistically speaking, if he is going to provide the food the least you could do is cook it and put it on the table, but your efforts should not be taken for granted.

For me, a fulfilled woman is financially independent, intellectually sound, an excellent wife and mother [that is in no order of importance]. Pretty much, a holistically productive citizen. I disagree with the views that one has to be militaristic or crass to be an effective feminist. What would serve us well is to advance a more just, liberal and safer society. If feminism is to succeed in our society, we need to treat men as comrades and not enemies as majority of them are decent beings who respect women.

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